Is Plastic Recycling in Britain Fundamentally Flawed?

Recycling is a constant consideration within the packaging sector, but many experts are predicting a stormy future for a plastic recycling industry, which they claim is fundamentally flawed.

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Recycling is a constant consideration within the packaging sector, but many experts are predicting a stormy future for a plastic recycling industry, which they claim is fundamentally flawed.

Many now believe that without significant systematic changes Britain is unlikely to hit its future recycling targets. Has the tipping point now been reached for companies working within the sector and British plastic recycling as a whole?

One of the biggest problems facing the UK plastic recycling industry, according to expert sources, is that many recycling businesses are paying high prices for their input, paying fixed prices for processing and then receiving very little for output, creating an unsustainable situation.

The problem has also been made worse by a European price rise for recovered HDPE bottles – a source for some British plastic recycling plants. Past American supply issues forced Asia to source bottles from Europe, driving up prices for UK firms.

Another exacerbating factor has been recent oil price fluctuations, according to the Foodservice Packaging Association’s executive director, Martin Kersh. Virgin plastic resins, he claims, have fallen in price as a result of a sharp fall in oil prices. This has led to virgin plastics being the cheaper choice when compared to the costs businesses face in purchasing recycled versions.

Mr Kersh claims that all plastic recycling firms are likely to be experiencing problems in Britain, particularly those aiming for food-grade quality.

This is despite many leading brands pledging publicly to use recycled materials in their packaging. Mr Kersh believes that some will stick to their promises but others may be tested by the potential presented by cost-saving alternatives.

Yet recent research reveals that consumers are still firmly supporting the use of recycled plastics, claiming that price increases could be withstood for effective use of recycled content.

There is still concern, however, that without supply chain support brands are likely to renege on recycling commitments, and the repercussions could be very serious for British recycling targets.

The British Plastics Federation’s director general, Philip Law, says that problems with plastic packaging recycling will lead to missed recycling targets and have a negative effect on the sustainability story of the industry.

Britain is well known for being ahead of the 22.5 per cent European plastic recycling target, but rates could soon slow. There is also the danger that the problems could be made worse by recyclers reducing infrastructure spend, impeding the industry in the future.

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